BACK IN 2002, SAN FRANCISCO ADOPTED a “Zero-Waste” scheme. The scheme hopes to make San Francisco the first city of its size to achieve zero waste by 2020. They’ve made some pretty huge steps so far: they created a public campaign pushing people to reduce their waste, to reuse what they consume, and to recycle and compost anything that is no longer usable. They banned the sale of plastic bottles on public property back in 2014. They added a cigarette tax that funds cigarette butt clean-up. They required supermarkets to charge for plastic bags. They made recycling and composting a requirement for residents. And they require new buildings to have water bottle-filling stations.
But the latest step may be the best and most ambitious: last week they banned the sale of styrofoam.
There are many cities which have already instituted restrictions on the use of polystyrene foam (known commonly by the brand name “Styrofoam,”) but San Francisco’s ban is the strictest yet.
Styrofoam is an effective food-storage material — it’s a good insulator, and it keeps food clean. But it takes centuries to break down in landfills, and while it can be recycled, facilities aren’t usually able to handle the sheer amount of it being used and discarded. And it’s a problem for marine life, too.
Allison Chan, a manager at the Save the Bay organization in Oakland, told the website TakePart: “The main challenge posed by Styrofoam is that it breaks into tiny little pieces, especially outside in the sun when it photodegrades. It looks more and more like food and makes [hungry predators who then eat the foam] feel full and really, they’re malnourished and they can die from that condition.”
Whether San Francisco meets its goal remains to be seen. The goal of zero-waste by 2020 was made intentionally difficult by the city, in order to give local legislators a sense of urgency. But regardless of whether the goal is met or not, it’s just another example of the world moving in the right direction when it comes to climate change: it comes on the heels of the landmark agreement between the US, Mexico, and Canada to get 50% of their energy from renewable resources by 2030, and a half a year after the first-of-its-kind worldwide climate agreement in Paris.
Plenty of other cities are making strides towards reducing their waste and becoming more sustainable, but it’s great to see the city by the Bay leading the way.